The Snake and Us

snake-in-the-grass.jpgSome 60 million years ago, snakes added venom to their arsenal of survival tools.  The first predators mammals faced were snakes.  And so, according to this story on Science Blog, some primates evolved better eyesight, larger brains and more dextrous hands and feet to avoid being poisoned and/or eaten.

According to Lynne Isbell, a UC Davis anthropology professor,

“There’s an evolutionary arms race between the predators and prey. Primates get better at spotting and avoiding snakes, so the snakes get better at concealment, or more venomous, and the primates respond…. A snake is the only predator you really need to see close up. If it’s a long way away it’s not dangerous.”

The eye that would prevent a sneak snake attack eventually became the eye that could distinguish other things in our world, and facilitate social interaction. Primates fortunate enough to live in a paradise where snakes lack venom tend not to have evolved as far, according to Isbell.

Try to stack this theory up with Genesis. Snakes tempted humankind to acquire knowledge, the Bible says. Indeed, they may have. Perhaps God’s wrath was unwarranted. Or perhaps Adam and Eve left of their own accord, trying to get away from that snake, whom they could now see with frightening clarity.

Isbell is writing a book about primate origins. Her article appeared in the Journal of Human Evolution’s July edition.


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